Reviving the Old Apple and Pear Varieties in the Southern Marches.

Pear Aylton Red from The Herefordshire Pomona.


In December 1993 a group of eight apple enthusiasts, scattered over several counties of the Welsh marches, having been meeting over two or three years to look at apple and pear varieties to be found in orchards and gardens around the Powys/ Herefordshire borderland, took the decision to set up a formal group to attract other people - and funding - in an endeavour to awaken the general public to what was probably the last opportunity to rescue from extinction what was left of the British apple and pear heritage which had evolved and been nurtured - and prized by our forebears - for several centuries and still included survivors from a much more distant past. Thus was born/ begun the Marcher Apple Network.

A start had already been made prior to the 1990's when a walled garden collection of some 50 varieties had been planted at Berrington Hall National Trust (A49 North of Leominster) by the National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens (Herefordshire Branch) including numerous "local" varieties, and further embellished by cordon pears grafted from the notable Victorian collection at the 17th Century Scudamore family mansion close to Hereford at Holme Lacy House, the whole forming an impressive collection.

In the ensuing period MAN has grown to over 250 members and, for an amateur organisation, finds its services in demand in increasing directions, principally in helping to identify specimens brought by the public and offering general advice when needed, also responding to Local Authority demand for provision of courses in tree management skills, etc. It has planted its own apple and pear collections within the locality which, together, provide a regional source of gene bank material, including opportunity to monitor interesting but unidentified samples. It publishes a comprehensive annual Newsletter (free to members) and half-yearly updates. It has recently started to compile a digital archive, initially featuring colour plates of the several hundred varieties which were printed originally by chrome lithography and compiled into the collection known as the "Herefordshire Pomona" published by the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club in Hereford circa 1885 and edited by the leading pomologist of the day, Dr Robert Hogg. In doing this MAN has enlisted state-of-the-art skills made available to it by sources at Oxford University. MAN has itself published an illustrated booklet featuring many local varieties, including Welsh varieties which stand out as surviving witnesses of the true countryside. It is also planning to set up a cider apple and perry pear sub-group.

Over the past 100 years - and increasingly with the passage of time - much of our national heritage of apple diversity has been allowed to disappear. This is largely due to large-scale marketing of apples to this country from overseas and, latterly, to the central purchasing leverage of supermarkets which have largely emasculated formerly efficient smaller-scale delivery systems and varietal diversity which offered greater choice to the consumer and produce that was unsurpassed in flavoursome appeal. It is MAN's aim to help to resuscitate interest in native apple and pear varieties for people to grow for themselves or buy at farmers' markets, or perhaps even in shops!

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